MANHATTAN — It’s something Tom Hayes knew would happen, probably from a long way out.
And he loves it, really, because the Kansas State defensive coordinator gets as much out of his players as he gives.
“It’s inspiring, really, and it makes me a better coach and makes the team better,” Hayes said. “The opportunity is out there for cornerbacks to step up and earn spots, so go seize it with what you do on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom. These kids, they compete like crazy and the best players always rise to the top.”
Hayes, in his second year as defensive coordinator, is overseeing the battle to replace Allen Chapman and Nigel Malone at the cornerback spots for K-State. No less than six players trying for the two spots.
“Those corners are going to be new because we’ve got to replace two, two-year starters in Chapman in Malone who seemed to always make plays out there,” Hayes said. “You see these practices and the guys are really out there trying to wear each other out and that’s healthy.”
Hayes’ confidence in the competition and the end results might be boosted by the return of All-America free safety Ty Zimmerman, who returns for his senior season and will be there to guide the new starters along.
Zimmerman, despite missing the last two games of the regular season against Baylor and Texas with an injury, was third in the Big 12 with five interceptions. Zimmerman, from Junction City, is a preseason All-Big 12 pick and a candidate for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Thorpe awards.
“In all my time doing this, I don’t think I’ve seen a guy like Ty, never seen a four-year starter at that spot,” Hayes said. “He does a great job as a captain and as a leader. We just want to make sure he continues to improve in everything he does. (Former K-State linebacker) Arthur Brown is going to be a really hard guy to replace because of his speed and his ability as a playmaker, but having Ty back negates some of that.”
Zimmerman isn’t alone in the defensive backfield — sophomore Dante Barnett started two games in his place and tallied 24 tackles, and junior Randall Evans made seven starts and was third on the team with 76 tackles. Both should see plenty of action in the defensive backfield.
“The guys that are competing for spots know it’s a battle and they know they need to come with it,” Evans said. “(Hayes) is right when he says the competition is good for everybody and makes everybody better.”
Evans and Zimmerman both mentioned Kip Daily, Trinity Academy product Morgan Burns and Carl Miles as players who shined during spring practice and summer conditioning, putting themselves in the mix at corner. Burns and Miles made names for themselves with special-teams plays last season, and Burns led the team with 10 special-teams tackles.
“The guys that started to come on in the spring have been competing and that’s what we need there,” Zimmerman said. “When they’re all battling like that, it’s going to bring out the best in each one of them and that’s when the true starters will emerge. I feel like, once we get full pads on and guys start developing out there, it’s going to be pretty close.”